After a knee injury or surgery, your surgeon may recommend that you sleep with a knee brace on while you’re in recovery. But sometimes following doctor’s orders is easier said than done. The injury is often stressful enough without adding a contraption that may add anxiety and frustration to the situation, whether you trust that it will work or not. (Source)
You may find that some patients aren’t required to wear a knee brace, or some people refuse to do so due to discomfort. Because every human body is different, it’s crucial to listen to what has been instructed for your individual case.
If you haven’t quite braced yourself for sleeping with a knee brace, getting used to it can take a few nights to adapt. To help you get ready, here are 7 tips that will help you get through the night.
1. Tighten the Straps Accordingly
Depending on the type of knee brace that your doctor has recommended, you may need to adjust the straps at night. The idea for sleeping is to keep the knee immobilized and prevent further injury. Adjustable straps will help you lock the knee in place comfortably.
As you adjust the straps, you want them to be tight, but you don’t want it to affect your circulation. On the other hand, failure to tighten the straps properly can lead to a brace that is too loose, causing it to slip or come off while you sleep.
Try testing the tightness during the day when you are at rest to see where the straps will be most beneficial for preventing movement.
2. Use Pillows, Lots of Pillows
As with most injuries, elevation is an excellent idea and necessary to promote comfort and healing. When wearing your knee brace to bed, it’s best to sleep on your back. In this position, you can place pillows below your knee to keep it elevated above your heart. You will likely need three or more cushions to keep it raised high enough.
If you struggle to stay on your back while you sleep, placing pillows firmly at your sides can also provide a barrier to keep you from rolling, twisting your knee, and causing more pain. The most comfortable option that I highly recommend is using two BioPEDIC Body Pillows (link to Amazon) on either side of you, and a Nature’s Guest Adjustable Cervical Pillow (link to Amazon) to keep you from rolling over on your stomach, preventing more damage. Then using a regular pillow to elevate the leg above your heart.
For those who struggle to sleep on their back, side sleeping can be achieved with a pillow between your knees. This will help keep the knee and hip in alignment to prevent further injury.
There is no recommended side to sleep on; instead, experiment with comfort and whichever side you can stay on without too much movement through the night. In this position, hug a pillow to your stomach and place pillows at your back to serve as a reminder to take care when changing to a new position.
3. Trust Cold Therapy
Often, pain from the swelling caused by the injury or operation is what leads to sleeplessness. The pressure is especially noticeable once you have tightened the brace. To combat this, before bed, incorporate icing into your evening routine.
At bedtime, remove the brace and apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes off before putting the brace back on. Due to the possibility of skin burns or frostbite, never apply ice directly to your skin and don’t leave it on your knee for more than 20 minutes. What I found worked best for the reduction of pain and swelling before bed is a Cold Therapy Compression Wrap from Amazon. It has an adjustable compression feature which is far better than any ice pack can manage – I absolutely love it!
Ice each evening, along with elevation, will help to keep the swelling down while you sleep, alleviating some of the discomfort and aiding in the healing process.
4. Keep Your Skin Moisturized
With continued wear, the material and shape of some knee braces can begin to chafe the skin in some areas, leaving rashes or lesions. This can be incredibly uncomfortable in bed, leaving you awake, annoyed, and seriously considering the risk of sleeping without the brace.
As part of your evening routine, along with an ice pack, be sure to use a skin moisturizer before heading to bed. This will help with the dryness and itchy skin from the rubbing of the brace. Be sure to let the moisturizer absorb entirely before putting the brace back on.
If you have multiple knee braces, switching them regularly will help prevent contact rashes from the skin constantly being rubbed at the same location.
5. Take Pain Medication
After surgery or an injury, sometimes your best chance of getting a good night’s sleep is to take pain medication. For many people, over the counter medication from your local pharmacy will be enough to dull the pain while you sleep.
If the pain is keeping you awake, even with the brace, consult with your doctor for a prescription option while your knee is still healing. Be sure to always take pain medication as it is prescribed.
6. Side of Injury = Side of Bed
For some people, the problem with the knee brace is the feeling of constriction. The restraint and lack of mobility can be claustrophobic and hot, making sleep nearly impossible.
Help give your leg some room to breathe by sleeping on the side of the bed that matches the injured leg, either the right or left side. This may take some patience from your sleeping partner if they are forced to relocate, but will give you the freedom to have the braced leg outside of the bedsheets without sacrificing your whole body to the elements.
In addition, it would be helpful to use lighter linens while you are sleeping with the knee brace. If the tightness of the brace is causing hot nights and sweating, thinner sheets will help you feel less weighed down.
7. Rehabilitation Exercises
Tight or weak muscles after an injury can cause your leg extreme pain and stiffness. If your leg feels “stuck” while wearing your brace, you will find it challenging to get a full night of restful sleep.
As soon as you are instructed to, begin performing any exercises given to you by your physical therapist or surgeon. These will help to improve circulation and get your muscles moving. It will also help to relax the leg, which is mentally beneficial while it feels constricted in the brace.
Being unable to return to your regular exercise routine can be frustrating. Rehab exercises will not only help your leg to remain more relaxed but will also help you on your way to recovery.
Why Sleep With A Knee Brace
After surgery, it may be difficult to recognize how delicate the entire structure of the knee still is while healing. Even if you start to feel like the pain is diminishing, turning or rolling in your sleep can cause further damage to the knee or its surrounding joints, tendons, and ligaments.
There may also be circumstances in your injury that would suggest that a knee brace while sleeping is ideal, such as needing to ensure that the knee structure remains in place if your patella (kneecap) dislocates easily. Other times, a knee brace is recommended for the purpose of minimizing pain while providing support while you sleep in patients with osteoarthritis. (Source)
Ultimately, sleeping with a knee brace is a short-term adjustment for a long-term gain. If your orthopedic surgeon has recommended that you sleep with the knee brace, it’s best to do so for as long as they have suggested. A delay in the healing process will only lead to more discomfort, more pain, and less sleep.